It’s amazing how one short session can go just how you’d want it to, yet the next can be a total disaster. That’s what’s just happened over the last few days.
Firstly, my local rivers are in serious need of big rain. I’ve never seen them so low in my 45 years and I’m worried what will happen if that rain doesn’t come quickly. The odd fish can be seen in the crystal clear water, but some stretches seem devoid of fish. My beloved big roach have managed to ‘vanish’ but I know they’re very hard to see in winter. Their winter colours almost turn them into ‘ghosts’ even in the clearest of water, so I hatched a plan to try and winkle one, or hopefully more, into my net.
I went straight to the river after work, just as it was getting dark. I’d already prepared some mashed bread and had a loaf of fresh bread for my hook baits. I was going to quiver tip at night to see if any roach would come out to feed thinking it was safe. I’d already prepared my tackle the day before. I just needed to prime a few swims with the mashed bread, then fish them in rotation to hopefully earn my reward.
As I made my first cast (well, a lob just off of the rod end really!) I sat on my unhooking mat, waiting for magic to happen. I thought back to when I was just starting to fish in the early 80s, when I used to read about John Bailey and his exploits on those Norfolk rivers. He used to quiver tip for giant roach well into the night and I used to be almost there with him on the bank. As exciting as those tales were, they don’t prepare you for the feelings you get when you’re in the middle of nowhere at night. All of my senses were heightened, and I could hear my heart beating. I strained to see the white quiver tip, not just because of the dark, but through the stream coming from my mouth as the temperature plummeted. Then it happened, the tip lunged forward and started bouncing as a fish tried to make off with my bread.
As I lifted the rod all hell broke loose as a fish thrashed about on the surface. I didn’t turn my head torch on early because I didn’t want to possibly spook any remaining fish and also, I could be spotted from miles around by anyone in the area and I didn’t fancy any crackpots looking for me! Eventually, after one heck of a battle, my 3lb line did it’s job and I landed my prize, which turned out to be a great big trout!! What a surprise, and the first I’d heard of in this river!
After that commotion I wasn’t expecting a roach, but I soon had another tap then a pull which resulted in another sizeable fish being hooked. This turned out to be a chub somewhere between 3 and 4lbs. At least I was catching, but after all that disturbance I went a few hundred yards downstream to another baited area.
This time when I cast in, my tip started bouncing as soon as I placed the rod in the rest, but I missed the bite. I cursed myself because this was one of my banker big roach swims, so I was watching the tip like a hawk on cast number two. This time there was a couple of rustles, then a pluck, then the tip dropped back so I swept the rod behind me and connected with something solid. The ‘thump thump’ being transmitted through the rod told me that this was probably a roach, and it felt a good one too. After around 30 seconds of holding the rod well out from the bank, hoping the hook holds and all those other horrible thoughts that come into your head when playing a big redfin, I slid a large bar of silver over the rim of my net.
As I lifted her up the bank, it felt a very good roach and this was confirmed when I parted the mesh to reveal a sparkling silver flank, tipped with bright red fins. I wondered whether it would threaten the ‘magic’ 2lbs mark, and I still do, because after rummaging around in my lightweight bag, I realised I’d forgotten my scales! Ah well, whatever the weight, it wouldn’t have been any more beautiful or given me more pleasure.
I placed her in a net a few yards upstream of me while I tried for more of her shoal mates. The next cast produced a smaller sample, probably getting on for a pound, but the next fish was another lump of a roach. Unfortunately, this time, the hook pulled out. What a horrible feeling, and after 30 minutes or so with no more action, I headed for home both happy and frustrated.
For my next trip I had an afternoon after predators. My first port of call was for a good pike that had been terrorising the local roach population. I couldn’t believe my luck when I turned up and it was easily visible, hovering at mid water quite close to the bank. A mackerel was soon drifted in front of it’s nose and this is where the fun started. For an hour we had this stand off where the pike would nose the bait, circle it, and then swim away, only to return and repeat the process when I twitched the bait. Eventually the trebles pulled free of the bait, and before I could cast back in, it had been eaten! The crafty so and so. I placed my fresh mackerel in the same spot, and thinking it was a free meal, this time the pike wolfed it down.
The strike set the hooks and a disappointing short scrap was soon over followed by me struggling to lift the net out of the water. It was obviously a good fish, a mid to upper double, but again, I shall never know exactly what it weighed. I unhooked the pike on the mat and folded the landing net mesh over it while I got the rod and trebles away from danger. At this point the pike did a big thrash, meaning the mesh was no longer covering it, then it did the biggest flip I’ve ever seen any fish do, which led to it slipping straight back into the water! I couldn’t believe it, after all that tomfoolery, to finally land it then lose it in such careless circumstances! I suppose it was the classic fishermans tale, the one that got away! At least it wasn’t a PB or a special fish. Lesson learned, and I cursed all the way to the next swim.
The next swim I visited held a shoal of resident perch, some definitely over 3lbs, up to possibly 4. Again, they were clearly visible and this added to my frustrations as they ignored every lure in the box. I ended up firing some casters into the swim, which really switched the perch on. I had a match rod with me so I float fished casters, but had to fish really fine to fool them into taking the bait. I hooked and landed one that weighed 2lbs 4oz, probably the smallest in the shoal.
After this, the days frustrations grew as I hooked and lost 4 big perch, some after playing them almost to the net, only for the hooks to fall out later on in the fight. I checked my hooks to see if they were made of rubber, but in all honestly, light lines and small hooks are a recipe for disaster in the bony hard mouth of a big perch.
In desperation I put a larger hook on with 3 casters, but these fish weren’t going to be fooled by that old trick. As the light faded, I started digging at the bank with my bankstick and eventually turned over a small lobworm. I broke this in two and placed it on the hook. Within the minute I had another bite and was soon playing a stripey to the net with the larger hook staying in place this time!
This fish had big shoulders and was very broad, meaning it was slightly heavier than the first perch at 2lbs 8oz. It looked like it could be a real lump a few years down the line.
Seeing as the light had now gone, I called an end to the session. It had been a strange day, that’s for sure. I couldn’t work out whether it had been a good one or not!